Crests and Community
While considering potential topics to help kick off our 2023 blog schedule, I was excited to find a way to incorporate my upcoming 10-year anniversary with Evoke. I also felt driven to do what I jokingly refer to as, “the annoying therapist thing” (insert student eye-roll here) of bringing meaning to the mundane. With that in mind, I narrowed in on one of my favorite parts of our introduction groups at Evoke as the basis for a larger discussion around community and team-building.
Those of you who have participated in an Evoke intro circle (either as a student, a professional, or a family member visiting your loved one), will be familiar with the following prompts to which each of us respond. We start with basics - our name, age, home location, and pronouns. We then typically answer two questions: “Why are you here,” and “What are you working on this week?” Finally, we end each introduction with a “fun fact” as a way to further break the ice and build connection.
As I reflected on that first question, “Why am I here,” I also thought about my reply for, “Why am I still here a decade later?” Fortunately, the reason for both is actually quite simple – the communities we (students, guides, families, and therapists) build together.
A person’s community/environment is one of the most critical external markers of success as studied across different treatment modalities. Therefore, it likely comes as no surprise that when assessing for both risk and protective factors, it is important to view the individual in combination with her/his/their greater system. The wilderness modality is no exception to this, and when participants are given opportunities to actively and intentionally steward the culture of their group, they are able to effect greater change within their own processes as well.
One of my favorite therapeutic tools that has helped shape group culture and emphasize the collective in conjunction with the individual, is a crest and flag project we maintain in my group. While this changes over time (as it should, based on the individuals present), the current iteration has a few key elements I’d like to describe.
At the top of the flag the students created a field with an assortment of different values, qualities, and principles they use to guide group culture. Some of the current values the group emphasizes are as follows: acceptance, vulnerability, respect, glory, grit, loyalty, integrity, accountability, personal care, creativity, empathy, organization, fun, and connection. As new students enter the space, they are invited to consider these values and to add any they would like emphasized. Additionally, during moments of conflict and challenge, students will acknowledge the values they’ve committed to upholding as a group. Finally, in some iterations of this practice, the group will engage in daily affirmations of the individual who most fully embodied certain values and bestow upon them the responsibility and honor of being the flag bearer for a period of time.
The second element of this practice more fully weaves the individual into a collective. At the center of the current flag is a crest depicting a Darkling Beetle (or “Larry Beetle” as the group calls them) grasping a desert flower. When this iconography was first created, it loosely symbolized the students’ own journeys of finding growth in the tough desert wilderness.
The third element is a patchwork grid extending beyond the crest in which students are invited to add a symbol of their own to represent the mark they’ve made on the community. Over time, this living history has helped students feel more connected to their mentors as well as consider the legacy they will leave behind upon graduation.
As I mentioned earlier, community is what brings me back each week. I’m passionate about the group and systems work that happens in the wilderness, and that is incorporated into the culture on a daily basis. Although my blog just briefly covers one example of a community-building tool we use to facilitate this focus; it’s a palpable, pervasive, and invaluable aspect of our model.